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REVIEWS: Fearlessly Forthright or Nicely-Nicely?
Mimi Speike
Posted: Monday, December 19, 2011 12:51 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

These reviews, mostly opinion, are often wildly at odds. Here are some of the things I wonder about:

From the standpoint of the author: How do you reconcile opposing views? Do you dismiss those you don't care for, or do you look for every smidgen of wisdom and try to profit from it?     

For the reviewer: Should you make a point of cushioning criticism with encouragement? What if you feel strongly about an issue, and you can't communicate your level of discomfort by being coy? 

I fear I've offended, as a result of a sincere, carefully deliberated review. I may have been brusk. But I can't bring myself to soften candor with platitudes, as some do. An editor isn't going to pussy-foot with us, if we should one day be so lucky.

And, what's with the apologies? Tear my stuff apart and I'll thank you. (This is not to say that I'll agree with you.) It's always good to be challenged, forced to reconsider a point of view you're comfortable with. This is how you grow.  

If you evaluate my work, be blunt. If you have the patience, cite every flaw. I want to hear it all. Spit it out, and please, no apologies.

Look for Sly!, coming soon to Comic Fantasy With Way More Than a Hint of Wacky. What? There's no such tag? Get one ready, Book Country, for my 'Up Is Down, Nothing Sacred' approach to life permeates everything I write. 

This review process is marvelously educational. Read, decide what works and what doesn't, then explain your thinking clearly and be able to defend it. It can't help but make you a better writer.  

It's a bit tricky. But it's addictive, isn't it?

George Copeland
Posted: Friday, January 20, 2012 8:48 AM
Joined: 1/7/2012
Posts: 6

The entire point of peer reviews is to tear down what does not work. The point of tearing down what does not work is to rebuild your project so that it does work. I do not see a way to soften what amounts to a sledgehammer blow, especially since we're writing.

Afterall, what is more a product of individual personality and intellect? Getting your self-image slapped around publically is going to sting. But it's necessary. Because the other side of writing is this: it is inherently narcissistic. The entire point of the tearing down is to get the writer to understand the reader doesn't care how smart or witty the writer thinks he is--he just ain't communicating yet, except to himself.

All this is by way of voting for the harsh and unrelenting review. You are exactly right in saying we are not going to get kid gloves and warm tea from agents and editors. So why indulge ourselves here--if we are seriously seeking a place in a wildly competitive industry populated out of all proportion with hacks and the haplessly untalented? And that's what it is, folks. It ain't a commune of other-lovin' hipster artistes, who are just getting bad breaks from Coporate Dogs.

So, speaking for myself (and trying to convince others to toughen-up), please: tear me a new one. Be as hyper-critical as your intelligence will support.

Maybe that means I'm with Mimi.

Mimi Speike
Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 1:54 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

Man! You and Carl Reed both have the guts to say what I don't dare to. 

All I can add is, less ambitious authors have an edge (of sorts) in that there is a large readership for undistinguished material, legions willing to fork over dough for, for instance, the insulting sequels to Pride and Prejudice, the D'Arcys playing detective and God knows what else. Don't get me wrong, it's not insulting to Austen.  She's past caring anyway. It's insulting to the intelligence of anyone who adores the original.

I have little chance of being published myself. My stuff is too out there, I fear. You, you write commercial, but with style. You've got a real shot.

I'm hopeless. But I gotta write what I gotta write. And thank God I've got more imagination than to have to rip off poor Jane Austen. That's about as low as you can go.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 1:58 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

Blunt. BUT!  If you are going to say that something doesn't work, you have to say WHY. make a suggestion for improvement. If all you have to say is, This doesn't work, don't do that, and you can't say WHY the piece needs fixing, or a general idea of how to fix it, then honestly, you don't know what you are talking about and have no business writing a review.

Mimi Speike
Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 2:10 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I don't think any of us is going to pick something apart without having a solid grip on what (or what we think) is lacking, and conveying it. No one's that much of an ass, even me, though I have my moments. I've told my poor sister for years, when I get to be too much, tell me to shut the fuck up, and I will. Same goes with you guys. I mean it.

It's not the severe evaluations, even if I don't agree with them, that trouble me. It's the happy-talk: love your voice, really got me into the story, can't wait to see more, that makes me wonder about the abilities of the reviewer. 

Atthys Gage
Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 11:43 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

I don't particularly excel at constructive criticism of the form most people seem to be requesting -- the 'what works,' 'what doesn't', 'is this believable' -- type of thing.   In fact, I'm a poor critic, but a pretty good editor (in my own unhumble opinion) so my crits usually take the form of suggestions for how to rewrite things that I didn't like.  Because this can come off as pushy, I usually like to leaven it with a little bit of the soft-sell, but that's just my own preference.  Rest assured, if I didn't think the excerpt was worth my while, I wouldn't be reviewing it at all.  
Angela Martello
Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 1:36 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

I think there's room for all types of reviewers: the "this totally sucks and I'm gonna tell you exactly why" reviewer, the "I'm a professional copy editor and I'm going to point out every nit-picky error in your copy whether you like it or not" reviewer, the "I see some really things in here so I'm going to couch my criticism in positive comments" reviewer, as well as the "I'm not much of a critic, but I know what I like to read so bear with me" reviewer.

I think, as writer, I can find something of value in every review. That said, however, as a person who has spent the better part of her professional life in positions where I have had people reporting to me and have had to train and/or teach people, I can tell you this: people respond to criticism much better when it is approached positively. Reviewers, bosses, teachers, editors who do nothing but yell and scream (whether in person or in writing) - well, people tend to switch them off eventually.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 1:58 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

Angela, those are all useful review types.
The, I'm going to tell you it's shiat, and horrible, and not tell you WHY, just how much you suck, review?  not so usable.

Angela Martello
Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 6:33 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

Hi, Alexander,

Absolutely, the Rant without Reasons is useless. But, the Rant WITH Reasons after some time wears thin. People just respond better to criticism - even very negative feedback - when it is presented in a positive and constructive manner. At least that's been my experience as a manager (and I've been managing people in-house and remotely for 20 years).

Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 4:37 PM
I agree with Angela,  here. There are definitely a number of different ways to approach a review and they all have different purposes. BUT as an editor myself, I do feel that positive commentary is very important and should always be present in some form.

Editors at traditional publishing houses will absolutely give an author both the good and the bad. It's a myth that there is no sugar to help the medicine go down--at least with the majority of editors. Editors are trained to find useful and encouraging ways to make their points. It's not about couching it--it's about providing your criticism in such a way that it will be taken to heart, without the anger or resentment that leads to a poor relationship between author and editors and that can make an author not truly understand what the editor is trying to say. Just like in life, it's important to know both your strengths and your weaknesses. It's the only way you can play to the positives while working on the negatives.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 5:30 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Yep! Kindness definitely helps the medicine go down, everywhere and always.

And thanks to you, Danielle, I realized that I'd been punctuating my sentences with sometimes superfluous and eccentrically-positioned commas: that is to say, injecting pauses into the written, formal register that mimic the way I speak. Sometimes I still leave them in; most times I strike them out—but I thank you for calling my attention to it. Now that particular eccentricity of punctuation is a conscious decision, one that I was absolutely blind to before.

As to all the “rough boy and tough girls”—heh!—growling: “Bring it on! Be absolutely brutal in your critique and savage in tone when reviewing my work. Hurt me! Hurt me!”—or words to that effect—you don’t really mean it. And I’ll tell you why: unless you’re an absolute masochist or someone possessed of such low self-esteem that the only way you can feel better about yourself is, neurotically, if someone abuses you publicly you deserve to be treated with respect and professional courtesy. Directly, yes. Honestly, yes. With the maximum of succinctness and candor and a minimum of gratuitous or cloying hand-holding, by all means.  But callously, snidely, brutally or savagely?—pick your adverb—err . . . no.

And I would caution anyone behaving in such a fashion to: “check yo’self, befo’ ya wreck yo’self, fool!”, as a certain wise philosopher and psychologist recently sang in a popular song.

Because here’s the thing: most of you AREN’T editors or agents or other industry professionals taking the time to review and critique others; you’re writers. Like me. And do you really want to get a reputation for being Mr. or Mrs. Snidely Snark, Cruella Ego-stroke  or Censorious Pompositus Jack-ass? I don’t think so. Because the very people you may be ripping into are the very people who next week, month or year may be buying your books and talking about you—or not.

So by all means be honest, direct and unflinching in your analysis and criticism of another’s perceived weaknesses, critical flaws or other errors in writing. But honesty is never an excuse for cruelty—save for those who like being cruel.

Or as Zig Zigglar put it (I’ve posted this elsewhere but what the hey; let’s hear from him again):

— “No one cares how much you know, until they first know how much you care.”    

Mimi Speike
Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 6:57 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I know that you're right. So far I haven't reviewed anything that I didn't have a lot of good things to say about. Nor have I been reviewed, my thing isn't up yet. My first chapter is out being proofread. I expect it back shortly. So, you see, anything I've said so far is mere theory. I may soon be singing a different tune.

Inspired by a discussion I just read under another topic, I'm going to double back and reread and review a piece I dropped because I was so horrified by the premise, which I felt was heartlessly opportunistic. 

Maybe I'll find I've changed my mind, or maybe the author could benefit from my point of view.
Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 8:14 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 244

Honestly, whenever I get a review on any piece that I've written from any source, I set it aside after I read through it.  The stuff that sticks in my mind, that sparks an idea, that won't stop tapping my shoulder?  That's what I take away in a review.  Whatever else doesn't do that, doesn't make itself known, disappears.  I may find myself re-reading a review after another couple of drafts and something else will stick but otherwise it doesn't matter how nice or brutal a review was.  I only address what my logical brain chooses to hold on to for revisions.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 11:46 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

You bring up a good point, Mimi. I, too, have shied away from reviewing something that would have resulted in page-upon-page of criticism being posted. (At one point I had written more pages of criticism than the posting writer had in their novel's first chapter.) I'm almost certain the writer would have perceived that criticism as an all-out attack, so I’ve shelved the review for now.

Moral cowardice on my part? Shocking dereliction of duty? Perhaps. But life is short; there's only so much time allotted to each of us and I've no desire to troll around online picking fights with outraged writers.

Having said that, however, I’ve also given my share of one- and two-star reviews. (Most of those reviewed pieces are no longer posted.) Those aren’t fun to write, believe me. I’m sure they’re even less fun to receive. I hope I helped the writer in each of those cases but you never know. . . .

BTW: I wasn’t referring specifically to anyone posting in this particular thread; I should have made that clear. Your comments served as a kind of writing-prompt that caused me to think about other postings on this same topic by other writers asking reviewers to “let ’em have it; be brutally honest with your review.”

I always admire the courage and bravado of those writers but chuckle as I read the adjective or adverb they employ to define the levels of unflinching candor and/or verbal brutality they’re willing to endure in order to get a useful review. They seek to reassure the reviewer that they can “take it”, but I wince knowing that some reviewers (not here on BC, for the most part—though remember, new people are joining every day) will take them at their word and simply blast away. In other forums and venues I’ve read my share of all-out attack pieces that seem to have been written merely to stroke the reviewer’s own ego and demonstrate to their respective literary circles how cool, tough and clever they were on the poor schlub posting dreck. (Now, if that clueless, talent-less poster of such badly-written work is utterly oblivious to their own faults and failings that’s another matter entirely. . . .) 

@stephmcgee: I appreciate and concur with what you’re saying there. I always like to say that the only immediately-useful criticism you’ll receive is that which you immediately recognize as being useful. A tautology, yes, but the other kinds of criticism, the “won’t-recognize-the-truth-of-it-for-awhile” takes . . . well . . . awhile before becoming useful and the “nonsense; the critiquer got it plain wrong/merely has a different opinion and approach” stuff can be immediately dismissed.

Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 12:23 AM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 88


I don't have much new to contribute to this discussion as I agree with mostly everything that's been said. I just wanted to add that, especially here on Book Country, I've felt that reviews are more of a discourse between the writer and the reader that is in a "safe" zone... (something that you don't often get in the outside world). 

Ex. I assume that anything I write as a critique will be taken as something meant to help and I assume that anyone who reads my work is doing so with the intent to help. That being said, when I review I do point out both the good and the bad - the good serves to help the writer fix the bad (I think). It's the responsibility of the writer to ask the questions (if they have any, and I usually do have questions when I read others' reviews) and get more information about any comments. That's the part I like most about the critiquing process. 

On my current piece, I've gotten quite a few two star ratings - not because the idea is bad, but because I hadn't found the best way to present it (I think/hope I've found it, because this is what feels like the 20th restart! I will not give up, I will not!)

I realized the problem only because the people who reviewed it weren't afraid to tell me the bad, in whatever terms they felt would work... and because I made an effort to find out what they mean when I was unsure. Dialogue and understanding.

Now I'm not sure if I'm making much sense. I blame it on the fact that it's past my bedtime. 
Carl E Reed
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 12:50 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

That made perfect sense, Lisa! You can't improve—you won't improve—if you simply give up. (I should know. I've quit writing entirely for such long stretches of time that it's a miracle I retain the ability to write a semi-coherent sentence—which, by the way, I often don't.) 

In that vein: I just discovered I wrote "to define the levels of . . .  candor" instead of "describe the levels of candor."


Time to go read for awhile: PKD's "In Milton Lumky Territory", "Arguably" (essays by Hitchens) and "Firmin" by Sam Savage. (That latter book is really one every writer should read. A bitter-sweet modern classic about a rat born in the basement of a Boston bookstore, it's a thought-provoking, heartfelt, darkly-whimsical examination of the joys, limitations, terrors, exasperations and exaltations of the reading life. I also cheer for the writer, Sam Savage, who'd given up writing entirely until his book burst upon the scene in 2006 garnering rave reviews and sweeping up award after award. At the time of publication retired, "damn-it-all-I'm-done" writer's writer Sam Savage was 65.)

Atthys Gage
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 1:05 AM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

The harshest criticism I ever received was over at Amazon during last year's ABNA.  A fellow contestant (whose excerpt I genuinely liked and reviewed positively, came back and called my excerpt trite and cheesy.   This – coming after nine or ten very positive, even glowing, reviews from other contestants – was devastating.  Suddenly, all of the positive reviews didn't matter.  Only what this guy said mattered.  I spent an afternoon sulking and feeling miserable.   (I should say, in fairness, that he did not post his criticism publicly, but offered it in a private email, and it was not a mean-spirited review.  He even said I was one of the best writers in the contest (in his opinion) – he just found the story trite and cheese-like.)  

What to do?  Well, after a few hours of despondency, I reviewed his review and realized a few things:  he really hadn't got the story at all.  He had made several assumptions about where it was going (based on a five thousand word excerpt) none of which were correct.   I thought about sending him an email defending myself, but then decided against it.  Ten out of eleven critics had responded with five stars.  One out of eleven had panned me.  Jesus, how much praise did I need?  Did I really think every single person out there was going to love me?  So instead, I sent him a polite email thanking him for his honest review and wishing him luck, suggesting that if we were ever on the same coast, we should get together and have a beer.  I closed with:  "You bring the beer, I'll bring the cheese."  (No, I didn't.  But it crossed my mind.)
So did I learn anything from his review.  I learned something about humility and perspective.  Did it change my story.  Nah.  Not at all.  But it made me think a little.  
Carl E Reed
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 4:25 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Error correction: What is the sense in writing ". . . you can't improve—you won't improve . . ." That's redundant. I should, of course, have put it the other way around. One more reason I argue that good writing is re-writing. (For me, anyway. . . .)

Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 11:15 AM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 88

Phew. I'm glad I made sense!

@Carl No worries, I think we all understood what you were trying to say. And I'm definitely going to look into the book Firmin... sounds like a great read.

@Atthys - your story is a very good example of balancing the negative with the positive. It's difficult sometimes - everyone get's bent out of shape over negative comments. (at least at first).

Ex. I work for a wine club with 20,000 members and I've noticed that my boss (and a few coworkers) tend to go into a flurry of demanding changes to structure/text/etc. when we receive one negative comment. 1 out of 20,000 members found what we published/sent offensive/incorrect/unclear. Sometimes it's because that member didn't read the entire memo. Sometimes it's because we really didn't word the line well. 

Whatever the reason, one person doesn't tip the scale. But I think that ensuring that that one person understands what you're trying to say and finding out why they misunderstood can only help you improve your writing.   
GD Deckard
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 3:43 PM

I only review books that I like. I understand what I like about a story well enough to make my point and I want to encourage good writing.

But badly written stories? I have no idea how to correct another's writing. I'm not talking about anything I can look up. Spelling & grammar are not mysteries. And when the writing boggles down, well, an editor can unboggle. The badly written stories I'm referring to are those stories that someone has obviously spent a lot of time writing without creating anything of interest to others.

It may be that a writer has to contribute something of their self to their story and if they can't do that, craftsmanship will not save their writing.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 5:01 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

@GD: the last paragraph of that last post. Bulls-eye! That should be bronzed and turned out as an inspirational plaque by somebody, somewhere.

In that vein, I offer a pair of contrasting  yet equally revealing and instructive quotes from the “Writers on Writing” genre:

Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.                     

                                                                    —Gene Fowler

If I just learned I had only six more minutes left to live I wouldn’t brood; I’d type a little faster.
—Isaac Asimov

Atthys Gage
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 5:33 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

A corollary to G.D. 's spot-on comment:  if craft is lacking, the writer's self will die a sad death on the page. 
Mimi Speike
Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 2:43 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I have to tell you about an enthusiastic review I just read on of a book, Life Sentences by William Gass, a collection of thoughtful essays on the craft of writing, and on the work of authors including Proust and Henry James. It sounds marvelous.

There is another commentary, very comforting, very inspirational, and also very amusing, The Writing Life by Anne Dilliard. I recommend it highly.

No one does this for fun (not that it doesn't have its moments): dig deep, search your soul; leap of faith, find your thrill; in the dumps, deal with it; keep at it, make it work; if you can, make it sing.

I don't know about you, but I need all the inspiration I can get. And the emotional support. That's where Book Country comes in.

Angela Martello
Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 9:57 AM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

"It's not a hobby, it's not a choice. It's a need, a compulsion."

Amen to that! I think everyone who has ever had the desire to create something - whether writer, painter, ceramicist, sketcher, musician, builder, glassblower, even gardener - can't just "give up." It's in our nature; it's part of who we are. It's why, even when I'm dealing with a migraine, I find myself booting up my laptop and visiting this site or reading through a few pages of my writing. Can't say that I'm particularly productive at those times, but I think it would just kill something inside of me if I "just gave it up."

Mimi Speike
Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 1:43 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

Oop-sy! I better try to put that back.

I had my post open to 'edit', lay back to think, and fell asleep. My iMac is next to my bed. I've got my little lap table with my keyboard and cordless mouse, I can sit up in the middle of the night, add to an entry, and settle back onto my pillow. Is this heaven, or what? 

Well, I woke up, and made a change to my comments two slots above, realizing too late that Angela had replied, responding to a thought I had just wiped out.

Here it is, more or less: no one who isn't a writer, wait, that's too narrow, no one who isn't an artist understands how difficult this is. I've had people tell me, 'if it's so hard, give up'. They don't get that you can't give up. It's not a hobby or a choice. It's a need, a compulsion.

I had a boyfriend who used to insist, you're obviously not good enough. Otherwise, it would be easy. So, drop it. Boy, that really singes my feathers, even now, twenty years later. How dare he, or anyone, say such a thing? Yes, it's hard, and it stays hard, it never gets easy. So we should stop trying?

There may be a few for whom writing is a snap. Christopher Hitchens was possibly one such lucky devil, from what I've read of him, and Truman Capote, another. For most of us, I would say, if it's easy, you ain't doing it right. You're not aiming high enough.

I read, somewhere, comments on the writing process. One author claimed to be an adherent of the 'apply ass to chair' school. Sit down at your desk and stay put, for a predetermind period, whether you manage to squeeze something out or not.

Another, I believe it was Anne Dilliard, it's been so long since I read her book I can't be sure, goes at it with a battering ram: she starts revising from the beginning and hopes the momentum will push her a few pages further along. That's pretty much how I do it. That way's slow. That's one of the reasons I've been on my thing for thirty years. (Sometimes I say twenty. It sounds better.)

For much of that time I worked two jobs, but still, pathetic, don't you think? I give myself no breaks, not on my ability to close the deal, and not on the quality of the work.

I think I've produced something extraordinary. I can't wait to see if anyone agrees with me. Sly! will be up shortly. It's out being professionally proofread. I figure another week, tops.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 1:35 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

I read your last post, Mimi, and it's a doozy.

Here's the thing—there are two kinds of writers: the prolific and the sweats-blood-to-get-a-page-written. (Yeah, I know. But I swear that’s a category of writer: “sweats-blood-to-get-a-page-written.”)

Both kinds of writers have scribed great books and occasional steaming piles of horse-flied what-the-hell-were-you-thinking/smoking/fucking; both kinds of writers work at their craft—but the former have a lot more time in their day for naps, hot sweaty sex and the reading of medieval romances (not necessarily in that order).

Sadly, I am a long-suffering member of the latter group.

The point is this: If you’re a writer, you write. Simple as that. It’s an active process, like breathing and walking and doing Tai chi at rosy-fingered dawn; not a static title draped around your neck like a gold medal dangling from a red satin ribbon: “Author.”

No one can tell you how it’s done; they can only tell you how they get it done.

Or as many others have said, in a myriad different ways: Here’s the secret—there is no secret.

You must find your own way, take from others what you can use and ignore the rest.

Here’s my advice to you: stop talking to non-writers about how difficult the writing process is. As you’ve discovered, they don’t care. Why should they? They’re not writers. In fact most of them—if statistics are correct—read at between a seventh and eighth-grade level and barely get through a book a year.

So listening to you whine and moan and cavil about how tortuous and challenging and endlessly frustrating the writing process is sets their teeth on edge, the way you might feel if your local waitress bitched to you incessantly about how badly her feet ache as she hustles food to the table and deals with impossible customers while the drunk cook in the kitchen misreads her clearly-legible handwriting and the dick-head restaurant manager keeps shrinking her working hours while the thieving bus boys . . .

But we understand, Mimi. Ah, yes we do. So bring your doubts and insights, terrors and exaltations, gnawing doubts and sublime bursts of inspired confidence and share them with your tribe: Writers.

Because we know. When we’re working we live there in those territories of Ultima Thule and Terra Incognita, The Slough of Despond and winter-white Valhalla. We feel our way, every day—letter-by-letter, word-by-word, sentence piled upon sentence turned into paragraphs become pages into—

Shall I tell you why I write, Mimi? The truth of how and what I do and why I cannot stop? Must not stop?

I write because it feels—there’s no one else here, is there?—like I’m embracing both Cosmos and Void when I concretize the fleeting phantasms of focused cognition into black tick marks on the page. By which I mean to say: when I commit to the work, holding nothing back—engaging the entirety of mind and body and spirit in the attempt to get that one true sentence down, followed by another . . . and another . . . and another . . . I know that I have found my calling; am responding with utter conviction and fever-eyed intensity to the Muse that has—temporarily, at least—seized my consciousness and voice and pointed to scenes I feel I am merely transcribing: "There, do you see?" says the Muse, "There . . . and there . . . and there. I created; you transcribe. Write. Record. Preserve."

I do my best. One does not fuck with the Creator.

Knowing all the while, of course, that I am merely mortal: doomed, limited, flawed. A brief spark of sentience flaring in the darkness, a micro-second flicker of light in a firmament of flickering lights. Stars in a spangled heaven, book-ended—either side of the life cycle—by oblivion.

Priests assure us otherwise but I’m not entirely sure I trust priests. They’re beholden to hierarchies of power beholden to hierarchies of pelf.

Or to put it another way: writing gives back far more than I could ever give. As I call upon everything I have ever seen or heard, touched or tasted, lived or read, the writing becomes a sacred Way: a way of communing with my deepest, truest self and the deepest, truest selves of others.

What matter, then, the struggle? Isn’t this the smallest of prices to pay for the privilege of being in the temple, lighting the candles and perfuming the altar? Or if you prefer an equally true but more grounded mechanistic metaphor: Isn’t this the smallest of prices to pay for the privilege of oiling the wheels and stoking the furnace, lubing the pistons and greasing the chain? You labor to fire up nothing less than the Machineries of Joy.

Clearer still, as direct and sharp and succinct as I can make it: There should be pain and doubt and terror in the writing process, else you are doing naught but regurgitating dogma and cant. Or vomiting up hack-work for philistine dogs. But there should also be joy and laughter and ecstasy in the work: piercing pities and pitiless savageries, manic enthusiasms and dour grumbles, fire-eyed rages and cooling green murmurs.

So that at the end of the day, when you lay your own writing aside and take up the work of others you find a greater appreciation for their work. And you do have a far, far greater appreciation—earned by the blood, sweat and tears of your own efforts—for what they’ve done, haven’t you? These poets, novelists, essayists; philosophers, prophets, alchemists; peasants, bourgeoisies, priest-kings.

They did it for you. And for me.

As we will do for others.

Write! It's your calling.

And if others doubt the value of your efforts or the valor of your struggle, doubt 'em right back. Say, "I no longer believe in you, fuckface!"

And blow 'em away like an F-16 fighter after-burning through idiot clouds of thistledown. . . .

Atthys Gage
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 12:31 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

True that, Mr. Reed.  Writing has never come easily to me.  My first novel-length rough draft took seven months and three spiral-bound notebooks, writing every day no matter what.  That was six years ago, and I've never achieved that blinding speed since.  Somedays I achieve nothing at all.  Others, I have to take pride in re-crafting some bothersome sentence in a work that should be long-finished.  

Actual writing takes up a trivial amount of my time, but even on those wordless days, it occupies my mind obsessively.  I never stop being a writer.  I seek, like most of us, recognition and riches – the right to put on my tax return 'Occupation: Writer' complete with income and expenses.  I also know that may never happen. 

But I don't even picture not writing.  

And, since it's just us writers talking, I'll admit something.  It isn't only the marvelous satisfaction of putting words down and knowing – after how many edits  – that they are right words.  I also believe that I am, despite all evidence to the contrary, doing something important.  In my best moments, I believe that someday what I write will matter to people, give them joy, trouble their minds, live – dare I say it÷ in their memories.  

Other days, of course, I regard myself as a worthless hack, an annoyance to those who deign to read me.  The worst thing of all:  a self-deluded lousy writer.  

BUT... still a writer.  Even on my worst day, I'm still that,

There is (and I'm stealing here from Chip Delany) a talisman that is given to all writers.  On one side it says:  'Be true to yourself so that you may be true to your work'  On the other it says:  'Be true to your work so that you may be true to your self.'  

It doesn't just work for writers. 
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 1:38 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Ah, what a wonderful thread. Moving from how one should review to why we must trudge forward through the knee-high shit thrown at us by others.

Here it is that I must say that I have fought against my destiny to be a writer. I know; it is a strange thing to hear. Why would I avoid a talent I was obviously blessed with? Before I knew my alphabet, I would take a crayon to the lines of a cheap spiral bound and write even though it was just squiggles. My mom said I was going to be an author. The problem is that children become tainted by the views of outside sources, and I pushed my writing away to be only a hobby because I so desperately wanted to fit in. My love of books I hid even though I would takes stacks home from the library to read and had a college reading level at the age of ten. It doesn't help that we live in a society that cherishes math and science over the ability to communicate.

It wasn't until high school that I stopped running. (The early stages of Hands of Ash are the product of people that were supportive of my nerdiness.) Even then, it was still a hobby. My goal was art school. The turning point was when I talked to the president of a small art school near Seattle my senior year of high school who told me that if I liked writing so much I should study and pursue it. So I did, and here I am almost five years later with a Bachelors in English, a novel thats almost done, a stack of short stories, and a sense that I did something right. Now, when people ask me what I do, I say, "Stay at home writer," without shame or embarrassment even when I get weird looks.

My advice to those who question themselves when they create: Do you love it? Do you feel empty without it? If they answers are, "yes," and "yes," then why stop? Tell the naysayers to go fuck themselves, but don't expect to make any money doing it either. If you do, good for you. If you don't, at least you're happy. You're healthier for it.

Now on the the topic. When I write a review I try to be as informative about what I have seen as possible. To cushion the blows, I try to make suggestions and use examples to help the person out. As a writer reviewing another writer, its good to remember that you want to help them improve, not coddle them so they continue to make the same mistakes. Include praise, but only where it is necessary.

I hope that helps.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 1:41 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Re: "BUT . . . still a writer. Even on my worst day, I'm still that."

Indeed you are, Atthys! As are we all. If we're writing.

I nodded my head in recognition when I read: "I . . . take pride in
re-crafting some bothersome sentence in a work that should be

That path isn’t for everyone but it’s how I improve: constant self-criticism, refinement and auto-correction.

Take that last sentence in the post I wrote to Mimi: "And blow 'em away like an F-16 fighter after-burning through idiot clouds of thistledown. . . .”

Does the word “idiot” add anything to this sentence? It does not. In fact, it detracts: it anthropomorphizes clouds by ascribing a lower category of intelligence to inanimate clusters of water vapor and injects a groan-inducing disharmonic into a simile that is already carrying more than its fair share of absurd and startling imagery. Even as poetry this is awful.

The sentence, paired down and improved, should read: “And blow ’em away like an F-16 fighter after-burning through clouds of thistledown.”

Much faster, cleaner, purer. Better.

Words count. And one ill-chosen, superfluous and/or inexact word can wreck your work and render it worthless to readers.

So if you’re doing this kind of work, the hard work of revision and excision, I applaud and salute you. ’Cause you’re down in the trenches where it counts, doing the pick-axing and heavy lifting that leads to personal growth and aesthetic improvement as a writer.

The fact that you can spot these kinds of errors and know how to fix them proves that you’re getting better as a writer, one struggled-for word and wrenchingly-wrought sentence at a time.

That's all any of us can do, Atthys—all anyone can ask of a writer.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 1:57 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

@LeeAnna: Good luck on your writing! Sounds like you're living the dream of being a full-time writer.

So failure is already an impossibility, know what I mean? Riches and recognition may comeor they may notbut no one can ever un-do your decision here or erase the time you've carved out for yourself to practice the craft.

If that isn't success in anyone's book, what is?!

Mimi Speike
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 3:37 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I love you, Carl. I really, really love you. 1. You are a riot and 2. You are so right.

Atthys, LeeAnna, both of you are also on my wave-length. When I see your names, I know that the material is going to be something worth reading.

Carl, It's not the sweats-blood-to-get-a-page that's my problem, it's the vomiting of page after page of crap, then trying get rid of the crap, paring down to the good stuff. 

It's so easy to be enthralled by your own brilliance, consisting largely (this is my experience) of unnecessary gook so clever (that's what you think at the time) that you can't bear to dump it, though it does nothing for the plot and often doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but boy, does it sound good. Until, come down off your high, you see it for what it is. 

And, I really believe this, most readers will never notice the waste-of-time runaround. But a few will, and they are the ones whose opinion I value.

You will find a huge amount of runaround in my piece. Allow me to mount a defense in advance: I feel my verbal grandstanding is in the jocular spirit of the whole, adds greatly to character development, and is an integral part of my gag. It's funny as hell. It has been pointed out to me by a bemused observer that I laugh as I reread it, and I know all the jokes.

Will my argument go with anyone? That's what I'm dying to find out. The story itself is terrific, no one but no one can complain of a lack of imagination, and - got to say it, sorry - I write beautifully, always have. I also work hard to refine. None of that 'off the top of the head' bullshit for me. 

This is the thing that struck me immediately when I joined Book Country. (It doesn't apply to present company, though Carl does ramble. Ha! As do I. This, folks, is part of our charm.) You would think that anything contributed to a writer's forum would be presented as if it were an essay to be graded, well thought out, edited down, and shined up to a high gloss.

Even a throwaway remark should be crafted to be a potential quote, insightful, memorable, and amusing, communicating a bit of personality, like Hemingway's remark, 'Write drunk, edit sober'.  

Carl E Reed
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 4:23 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

That fourth paragraph there: so true it hurts!

But if we didn't have that initial energy, that burst of wild enthusiasm and manic over-confidence that is so annoying to others, could we create in the first place?

The Greats are guilty of it as well, you know. I recall Stephen King recounting a road trip he took where he kept darting glances at his wife Tabitha, reading one of his just-completed manuscripts in the seat beside him as they drove along. That is, until she looked up and snapped, "Stephen! Don't be so goddamn needy! Keep your eyes on the friggin' road!"

Heh! Love that anecdote. SK isn't afraid to flay himself himself publicly for the edification and amusement of his "Constant Readers." He doesn't truckle; he tells the truth.

Or Philip K. Dick, another of my favorite writers. I can't remember if it was his second or third wife but she became so exasperated at his constant interruptionshe would demand she drop whatever she was doing and give him her undivided attention as he recited his latest brilliantly-conceived and masterfully-written wordsthat she banished him to a shed out back for the duration of the writing. (Years later he was still sore about it. But who could blame her?!)

As long as we remember to do the hard, cold-eyed work of revision with as critical and objective an eye as we are capable of ocularizing (yep; that's a word) onto our "li'l-darling words" we should be able to muddle through with a minimum of chagrin and embarassment.

Not me, youyou should be able to do that.

I always want to crawl under my desk to sob and pound the floor and scream at the startled dust mites I find down there: "Why? Why did I write that?!" when I discover glaring errors, clunkers and incoherencies in my writing.

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 4:35 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Why thank you, Mimi. That is of the highest compliment in my opinion due to my youth. I would like to read your work. Then I can tell you what might be worth it. I had to do some serious red-pen work myself. I cut out roughly 20,000 words, maybe more. Revision is an arduous task, but necessary. Even if you love it, you must kill it. Sometimes it feels as if I'm cutting out a bit of my soul, yet that is how it goes. "You can't have too much head on that beer. Thats money right there," as my dad used to say when he taught me how to pour a proper beer. I remember that every time I revise. People's attention is money, and you have to keep it.

Carl, sadly I am not a full time writer any longer. I am now employed at a bowling alley. (Which has inspired a story about an employee who can see mischievous little sprites living in the wood of the pins and lanes. Its still in the research/planning stage.) The good thing is that my boss is cool with me using the slow spots during the day to scribble along in my notebook. So I guess I am getting paid to write in a weird little way. Oh, and I do feel successful.

By the way, my husband doesn't like to read my stuff when I'm around because I hover and pace. He says its creepy. I can't really blame him.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 5:19 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

I wouldn't say "sadly", LeeAnna.

It's great that you had the time off to concentrate on the craft but I also think there's a lot to be said for being out there in the "real world" gathering material.

Who knows? Maybe you can start an on-again, off-again cycle for yourself where you work continuously for awhile and then take an extended sabbatical in order to finish a manuscript. Or work full-time and write part-time until you've earned enough money writing to reverse that ratio. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of Greats who had rather mundane, work-a-day jobs who managed to write absolute masterpieces of prose and poetry. Wallace Stevens: insurance agent. Philip K. Dick: dropped out of college before completing any classes; sold records, televisions, radios. Charles Bukowski: postman. And on and on. . . .

Whatever you do; however you juggle your professional and personal life—keep writing! It's all grist for the mill, eh?

Oh, and re: your gnawed-knuckle-husband-hover-whilst-he's-trying-to-read-routine—STOP THAT! Heh! No one can read under that kind of pressure. All his nervous eyes are seeing is: wordswords words wordswordswordswords word-a-word words. . . .

Mimi Speike
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 7:55 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016


I've never written full time, and I think that's for the best. I need time to deliberate my next move, as I don't work from an outline. I have one, of course, in my head, but any resemblance between it and what I end up with is purely coincidental.

I also need to reflect on what I've just written, and to do the necessary research for the next episode of my quasi-historical epic. I have piles of books on the sixteenth century waiting to be read.

I often need a break, period. I have several other things I am either writing or revising, plenty to turn to when I'm worn out from Sly!

I have a pretty mindless job, so I can do a lot of strategizing as I work. I work the night shift with no manager on. When I have a sudden inspiration, or have completed a new verse (Sly is a poet) such as his 'Ode to a Nose', a tribute to a charmer at the English court, a monkey mascot who longs to be a dainty court beauty and deplores her huge nostrils, I can jump up and spit it out, to the delight of my co-workers. I'm thought a real character at my job, and, guess what? I am!

by S. Boots

Where does your foremost fascination lie?
I tell you, Madame, not where you suppose.
You are magnificent of brow and eye,
but I rejoice, above all, in your nose.

Abundance of the snout is no vile thing, 
an aperture odd, no horrific flaw.
Enormous nostrils suck the scents of Spring
more readily than dainty dents. What law
requires that a nose be slim, or pert,
to be admired, to be reckoned fine?
Handsome is less responsive, less alert,       
so taken is the snot with a divine profile. 
The buttonholes - so sweet, so pale, so pink,
just darling!, do not snort with the same greed
as your crass critter, fragrance. Also, stink.
For good, or ill, they are another breed.

Your thug has more exuberance than those
lady-like honkers. Celebrate your nose!

Shall I let the cat out of the bag?  Sly! is my smirk-filled reinvigoration of a childhood classic. Sylvester Boots, Sly Boots, is my take on a nursery icon, Puss-in-Boots. 

A J Hart
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 8:46 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 26

I' exactly the same was Mimi. On the rare day off that I get I wake up excited thinking I get to spend the whole day writing. I set out all my note books and pens, get my computer out and put the kettle on before settling down at my desk - thinking 'this is how a real writer looks'. Then after about five hours I jump up and run as far away from my computer as I possibly can feeling completly overloaded, with a plot running rampant in my head and my characters protesting a performance. I need time to process what has been written. Time to plan my next move and so on. Work also brings an extra bonus of insparation on a daily basis. I neverhave nothing to write about because something always interesting happens at work that sparks an idea or five. 

Will you please stop teasing us and upload your book already?! 
Mimi Speike
Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 9:51 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I just bopped back here, meaning to erase that poem. Too late. 

Until recently, if I wandered off topic, I managed to swoop in and undo the damage. I've gotten cocky about posting, because my input has gone undiscovered for days, and often for weeks. All of a sudden I need to think before I hit that Send button.

AJ, I don't mean to be tiresome. I'll post Sly! as soon as the proofreader returns it. 

To the Book Country community: I do most sincerely apologize for misconduct. I promise to behave in the future.

If the Book Country honchos have it in their power to wipe out everything after 'worn out from Sly!' I would be very grateful.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 12:27 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

I wondered if you'd been drinking . . .  Heh!


Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 2:55 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

Yes, always. Eases the angst. Greases the wheels. And so on.
I feel so bad about AJ's comment, I've gone and uploaded my un-proofread Sly!
Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 11:47 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Thanks for the responses to my comments, but I must say that the only way I got Hands of Ash done after years of classes and part-time jobs (before I found out that it wasn't the last chapter that I had typed) was because I wasn't working. I admit that its nice some days, but I've been so busy working (most of the other employees were at a tournament in my home town for a week) that I'm literally itching for a writing fix where I sit for hours at my computer to type up my manuscripts and revise them. I've started tapping my fingers at work, and pens, and various things that make it into my hands. I think the reason why I can pull hours long shifts writing is due to my college days writing 10 page papers in one sitting because I would lose my train of thought if I did it in snatches. It could also be because my creative writing professor made us write a new story every two weeks (or a continuation of a longer piece). That is surprisingly grueling. It drove up my writing endurance significantly.

Mimi, I enjoyed the poem. It was entertaining. I do love comedies. So it is here that i must add, upload your damn book already! You are one awful tease. I shall go weep until your editor returns it.

Yes, Carl. I have stopped pacing and hovering over my husband. I even managed not to call my mother the whole time she was reading my book. I'm getting better. That is just my old I-need-approval-of-my-peers habit coming back up. I'm going to go try to kick it by dying my hair funny colors.

Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 1:05 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016


I put chapter one up last night. I'll try to get chapter two going in the next few days (one more read/tweak). Three will follow shortly, it needs a bit more work. Four through ten need major rethinking, I've added characters and I need to give them more to do. Eleven through (I'm guessing here) fifteen are yet to be written, so far I've only notes. Sixteen through the end, another dozen or so chapters, are long done, that's where I started thirty years ago. A modest romp got away from me. This monster in well over two hundred thousand words.

I find it interesting that you prefer unbroken stretches of get-it-down time because you might lose your train of thought. (I take that to mean energy and momentum) I need to reflect on what I've accomplished and to sort out what comes next.

I have a bare-bones outline, but additional ideas are always popping into my head. My pockets are stuffed with sticky-notes. 

You must be more organized than I am, to be able to barge ahead so confidently.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 1:56 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Whoops! That's what I get for composing off-line and then cut-&-pasting muh thoughts into these hair [sic] li'l boxesses.

I left out a critical line in an earlier post. The problematic paragraph in question should read:
The Greats are guilty of it as well, you know. They may compose with utter confidence and growing excitement but after the manuscript is finished they're as prone to self-doubt about the ultimate value and effectiveness of their writing as anyone. I recall Stephen King recounting a road trip he took where he kept darting glances at his wife Tabitha, reading one of his manuscripts in the seat beside him as they drove along. That is, until she looked up and snapped, "Stephen! Don't be so goddamn needy! Keep your eyes on the friggin' road!"
Now that makes more sense. This is why writers need editors. . . .
Sinnie Ellis
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 11:44 AM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 66

I am in desperate need of a good literary spanking, how am I to learn where I've messed up if no one will tell me. I like to know details. Don't just tell me it sucks, I can get that from reviews on Amazon.
I find this site to be more informative than beta readers. Although as of late, I'm finding it a little dead. Not to bring anyone down but you'd think since someone was discovered here recently this place would be all a buzz. There are a hell of a lot of good books on here.
As for self doubt as a writer, Carl. I am absolutely horrible to the point no one I know will read my work. My husband tells me no, he will read it if and when it gets published.
At least I know I don't have a biased audience behind me. I have me and whatever agent has rejected my work lately.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 11:58 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Hi, Sinnie! I haven't read your writing but the same four words hold true for all us regardless of where we are in terms of talent/career/quality and quantity of output.

Those four words are: Keep writing. Keep reading.

And good luck!
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 12:34 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Mimi, I'll make time to read it. I don't have a crazy week at work this time, thank the higher entity!

I'm also glad that you think I'm organized. I mostly write, and then make an outline so I know what not to cut. I know that sounds awful back-ass wards, but there it is. My problem is over editing. I lose my confidence when it comes to revisions to the point where my mom calls me on the phone to tell me to stop it and give it to someone else. My husband sees me editing and asks, "What draft is this? One hundred?" I'm surprised no one has smacked me on my knuckles with a ruler yet. I did have an art teacher who used to rip my paper out from under me to keep me from my bad habit. We all need someone like that.

Oh yes. Sinnie, the reason why the site is dead is because everyone is busy writing! I've noticed there is a kind of flow. It'll pick up and then die down.
Mimi Speike
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 9:38 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

Hey, you guys,

This has been quite a day. I feel like throwing up. I got my first review, and it was as bad as it can get: 1 star, and I got taken apart.

But, little by little, he walked his comments back, pretty much. He didn't really object to this and that, as a matter of fact, he does it himself. He did think it was funny in spots, it just wasn't what it should be, namely Woody Allen or Shrek. He told me it's too mannered, too dense, and though it is a bit like Jane Austen, it doesn't have her biting wit. OK, I can live with that. I'm not trying to be Jane Austen. I'm  me.

Finally he said, "it is amazingly written."

I know that! And yet, as Carl has said on several occasions, you always think, maybe it's not as good as I imagine. Maybe I'm a delusional fool, a real asshole. (That's a real possibility. I have strong jackass tendencies that I try to keep under control, grandiosity being the most unpleasant, after that a big mouth and a sharp tongue.)

I'm tough, but this first review was a killer. At least I'm no longer a Book Country virgin.

Tom Wolosz
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 10:27 PM
Joined: 5/25/2011
Posts: 121

Hello Mimi,
I'd like to let you in on a little secret. I'd guess that most people who write (especially if they've had that first book read by a few friends or relatives) are just absolutely sure that the response to their MS submission (or posting on BC) will not just be a contract in the mail, but a gilded sedan chair with four very sexy bearers (male or female or mixed, writers choice) sent by the eager publisher to wisk them off to the salons of NY where they will be lionized as the greatest creator of mind candy since the first human said "screw this picture painting, let's invent words!" That's what I felt, and then, of course, I got my first review.

So now I'm revising, completing my next story, and contemplating a third.   Ya keep plugging away.

As far as reviews are concerned, I think there's a misconception out there.  I've gotten reviews which were negative, and vague. When I responded with questions - I got silence.  That's a book review for the NYTimes.  "This book sucks - don't buy it!"  That's not a review for BC.  This thread is a review for BC.  Reviews should be mutual dialogues.

When I review a story I tell the writer what I find wrong with it.  I try to explain carefully (although I have screwed up occassionally when I tried to rush a review because I was short on time - never again).  I'm blunt, but I try to encourage the writer - I offer suggestions.  If the writer responds and doesn't follow everything in my initial review I try to clarify.  Sometimes that's necessary to get a point across (I've recently gotten a review which resulted in a give and take which finally got me to admit the reviewer was right and I was wrong - and now I'm revising).  And of course when I get a good detailed review, I make a point of returning the favor.  My point is that constructive reviews for a community of writers are not "Drive by reviews" - one shot blurbs.  Constructive reviews lead to dialogues, and follow-up reviews of future drafts.  It is a lot of work, but seeing a MS improved through your help is just as rewarding as getting a good review.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 11:22 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Tom is a wise, wise man, Mimi. Listen to him. He knows whereof he speaks.
Mimi Speike
Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 1:42 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

Thanks, Tom. You too, Carl.

I'll tell you what astounded me. It's not that I don't expect criticism, I do. There is much to pick on, I admit it. But he seemed to find nothing good - nothing! - at first. I'll shut up now. Thanks again.

Carl E Reed
Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 2:55 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Mimi: thou must chill!

It's your writing that's being critiqued, not you.

Of course, it feels like a personal attack; how could it not? This is your baby that's being dissected in a public forum:  every perceived flaw and weakness held up for critical examination, oftentimes accompanied by proscriptive suggestions made by strangers to improve the ruddy-cheeked glow of your squalling, tight-fisted love child.

They say: “Hmmm . . . there’s some snot on the cheek there, and I think its diaper may be full, and I do believe . . . yes, I’m certain of it, one unblinking bloodshot eye is a little off-center, eh?” and you feel like shrieking back, “MONSTER! What’s wrong with you?! Can’t you see how beautiful he (or she) is; how perfect and lovely and divine! Why, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I hold such a wonder in my cradling protective arms, a wonder I tell you! Hissssssss. . . .”

It’s all part of the process. The pain, the initial stung outrage and confusion, the injured ego screaming HELP HELP HELP at the reptilian ID and the ID responding with scarlet flashes of rage and scorn that serve to comfort the gasping, white-faced ego as it reels to its fainting couch. . . .

In the words of a current slogan meant to comfort the hurting: it gets better.

But not immediately.  You need time to reflect on the criticism, mull it over for awhile.

If you lash out publicly like this at your reviewers, however, you greatly diminish your potential pool of readers.

Remember, they invested the time and energy to read and review your work. Significant time and energy they could have spent doing something else. When you’re hurting that feels like the merest trifle but I assure you, from their perspective, it is not.

So . . . deep breaths, eh? Hang in there! It only feels like death.


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